A sermon based on 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17
Sunday, January 21, 2018 –
When I was a kid, they were one of my favorite genre of books. Now, I can hardly seem to find them for my kids. They were called, Choose Your Own Adventure. If you're not familiar with the series, they'd work like this: You'd read a few pages into the story until you got to a spot that directed you to make a choice. Would you get on the boat? Then turn to page 42. Or would you try to take the plane? Then turn to page 56. Would you fight the guard? Turn to page 105. Or would you try to sneak in through a window? Then turn to page 114. And based on the choices you made the story would unfold in a very different manner.
Choose your own adventure. That's how life works too, doesn't it? Take the prize or trade it in for whatever's behind door number two? Should I get a PC or a Mac? A truck or a minivan? Can I hit the snooze button or do I have to get up now? What should I eat for breakfast? Should I watch Netflix or read a book? Should I read my Bible today? And, of course, based on the choices made, the story can turn out very different in the end.
Every moment of every day is full of choices. From what we eat to what we do, from how we spend our money, to how we spend our time, we have choice after choice to make every single day. And, of course, many of those choices are moral ones: Will I snap back when someone hurts me? Or will I forgive as I've been forgiven? Will I choose to be kind and compassionate? Or bitter and angry? Will I choose to confess my mistakes and my sins? Or will I try to cover them up to shift the blame to someone else.
And, sadly, we don't always make the best choices. Instead we selfishly choose to seek glory for ourselves. And by our sin, we really choose hell over God. But thank God that he made a wonderful choice—a choice that wasn't driven by logic, or self-interest, but entirely by love. A choice that seems to make no sense at all: He chose me, he chose you, to be his own. He called us to be his own. And he chose us to share in his glory. Our text for consideration this morning describes God's wonderful choice and is taken from 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17…
13 But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14 He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.
16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.
"Why did I eat that? Now I feel uncomfortably full and bloated." "Why did I say that? I can tell my comment really stung. But I can't take it back or unsay it now." "I really wish I hadn't spent my money on that. What a waste it was! But there's no way I'm getting my money back on that deal."
I find that there are plenty of choices in my life where only a little bit of hindsight reveals them to be the wrong choice. And I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had chosen to do or say something different.
And I'm sure you can relate. Some choices we make are good and work out in the end. Other choices aren't so good and we suffer the consequences for them as we each choose our own adventure.
But do you ever stop to think why we make the choices that we do? Well, if we're honest with ourselves, don't we usually make our choices based on what's in our own best interest? Sure, you may make better choices about food and exercise than I do, but is the reason for those choices that you want to have more energy to serve your Savior? Or is because you feel in control of your health and your life? Or maybe you make the wise chose to save your money instead of spend it all at once. But do you find your security and sense of well-being in what you've saved rather than in God? Do you choose to forgive and show kindness at home because you love your Savior and your family? Or because you just want to get along and you know they'll leave you alone if you're nice. You're more likely to get what you want if, every now and then, you give them what they want.
You see, our choices are more than just the things we say, and do. Our choices are driven by our beliefs and by our attitudes. And our choices are often selfish, seeking to get glory for ourselves. When given the choice between serving selflessly or demanding that we get our rights, we choose our rights. When given the choice between showing love and getting our way, we choose our way. When given the choice between humility or glory, we choose glory.
And when we make such poor choices, we choose to ignore God, to rebel against him, to live to serve ourselves with no thought of him. And for choosing the glory of self over humble service to God… well… you know where that so-called adventure leads.
You know, unlike most stories, my Choose Your Own Adventure books didn't always have a happy ending. If you chose to sneak past the gorilla on the shortcut instead of taking the long way around, you could get killed by the gorilla when it awakes. Or, if you tried to play it safe and take the longer route through the grassy field, you might be bit by a venomous snake. Sometimes it seemed like whatever choice you made, didn't matter. You would still end up getting yourself killed.
Well isn't it that way in life too? If you choose to live in open rebellion to God and his will (seeking adventure and glory for yourself), sinning openly and brazenly, it will most certainly lead to death—eternal death. But if you choose to live as morally as you can, striving to be well-behaved in all you do (seeking your glory in a moral superiority compared to others)… well, you still won't be perfect. And that choice will still lead to death. (And it might ironically fill you with a pride that tells you don't really need much forgiveness anyway, leading you to be caught off guard when that judgment comes.)
And honestly, if left to your own choices, it wouldn't matter. You'd be damned if you do, damned if you don't, because unlike my Choose Your Own Adventure books, there is no right choice we can make to survive. We were all dead in our sin and transgression incapable of choosing to serve God and incapable of acting on it even if we could choose. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. And the wages of sin is death—eternal death in hell.
But, in spite of our bad choices, we won't get the hell we deserve. Paul explains why…
But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.
Why won't be suffer the eternal consequences of our bad choices? Because of gracious choices God made concerning us. God chose you. Before the world was made, before time began, God chose you to be his adopted children and live with him forever in heaven! God chose to send his Son on a rescue mission to recover your soul.
Jesus chose to give up his glory, to leave heaven behind to live on this earth instead. Jesus chose to never do anything selfish, but always chose to do what was loving and kind. He always chose to obey his Father. Jesus chose to go to Calvary. He chose the cross. He chose the nails. He chose the torture. He chose the hell. He chose to give you credit for his perfect life. He chose to take your sin away.
God chose to send his Spirit to bring you to faith—to believe the truth—by his sanctifying work in the Word and in Baptism. He chose to strengthen your faith by that Word and by his Son's body and blood. He chose to keep you in the faith, "that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ" that he has prepared for you in heaven.
As Luther put it so clearly, "I believe that I cannot by my own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith."
When we choose to do all we can to get an earthly glory for ourselves, and in so doing choose the path to hell, God, in his grace chose us "to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called [us] to this through [the] gospel, that [we] might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ." We call this "the doctrine of election," that God chose us, by grace, to be his own. Thank God for that choice! Thank God that our lives aren't a Choose Your Own Adventure story, but that he chose to make us a part of his story to bring us to the eternal adventure of heaven!
And now, while we wait for that great adventure to begin, Paul has some advice for us in the meantime:
So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter… May our Lord Jesus Christ… encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word."
Now, in thanks to God for his gracious choice, and by the encouragement and strength that he gives, you can make good choices. Choose to stand firm in the Word. Choose to read your Bible before you reach for the remote. Choose a devotion over a few more minutes of sleep. Choose to cling to these truths in Jesus and never let go because you know that in these truths we find our salvation!
Then choose to serve God and bring glory to him instead of serving yourself as you reach for self-glory. Choose to serve others before you serve yourself. Choose kind words instead of the snappy comeback. Choose to confess your sins to God and to each other. Choose to change your bad habits, replacing them with something good. Choose to use your money, your time, your food, your body, your mind, and all that you have to bring glory to God.
And with his encouragement and with the strength that he gives, you can do it! "May our Lord Jesus Christ… encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word."